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Who Billed the Volt as an Electric Car?

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author photo by Autotrader October 2010

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is not a normal car. Normal cars don’t get this kind of publicity. Normal cars don’t generate this much buzz and excitement among people eager to drive a new generation of more economical, eco-friendly vehicles. Now, on the eve of its official release, the Volt is also generating some controversy.

Chevrolet has always called the Volt “an electric vehicle with extended range.” There’s only one question: Is the Volt really an electric vehicle?

The Volt has both a 1.4-liter gasoline engine as well as an electric motor. When the batteries run out of juice, Chevrolet said the gasoline engine would kick in to act solely as a generator, extending the Volt’s range. But new details from Chevrolet, reportedly kept under wraps until now to protect the technology while obtaining patents, reveal that the gasoline engine will assist the electric motor at speeds above 70mph.

Since the electric motor needs the gasoline engine to provide propulsion at some speeds, it’s hard to describe the Volt as an “electric” car. Instead, it may be more accurately described as a hybrid. But Chevrolet disagrees.

“The Chevrolet Volt is not a hybrid,” insists the company. “It is a one-of-a-kind, all-electrically driven vehicle designed to operate in all climates.”

Spokesman Tom Wilkinson told the New York Times that engineers chose to allow the internal combustion engine to provide assistance “to maximize the overall performance and eliminate any flat spots in the acceleration curve.” But by doing so, the automaker has blurred the line between “hybrid” and “electric.”

This might pose a serious problem for Chevrolet if government regulators officially classify the Volt as a hybrid. It could potentially disqualify the Volt for tax credits and other special benefits currently reserved for full electric vehicles. Such a move seems unlikely at this point, but prospective buyers may want to wait for this controversy to be resolved before reserving their Volt.

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Who Billed the Volt as an Electric Car? - Autotrader